FDR Popped Tops with a Pen

There’s an important anniversary for beer lovers this week. Originally deemed New Beer’s Day, National Beer Day has been celebrated on April 7 since 2009. The pseudo-holiday marks the 84th anniversary of the relegalization of beer after Prohibition.

Making good on a campaign promise, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Cullen-Harrison Act into law on March 22, 1933. The act was followed by the repeal of Prohibition on Dec. 5, 1933, when the 21st Amendment was ratified. In the short-term, the Act allowed the sale of beer. Sure, it was just 3.2 percent by weight (4 percent alcohol by volume), but it was leaps and bounds better than Near Beer, the 0.5 percent swill  Americans had choked down for 13 years.

A few weeks earlier, Roosevelt brought American beer drinkers to their feet with a single sentence, spoken March 12, 1933, according to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library & Museum. The comment hinted what the new president intended to do.

“I think this would be a good time for beer,” Roosevelt said–and the entire nation cheered.

Roosevelt’s Beer-Wine Revenue Act allowed for sales of 3.2 percent beer in the U.S. beginning at 12:01 a.m. on April 7, 1933.

On the evening before, crowds packed hotels, restaurants and other less official drinking establishments. In Chicago, police were posted outside breweries in an effort to keep the roads clear for beer trucks. Across the land, beer lovers waited for the second hand to tick one minute past midnight: New Beer’s Eve!

On the morning of April 7, newspapers in the 19 states that had already repealed the prohibitions proclaimed, “Beer Flowing Freely in Pennsylvania,” “Compromise Beer Bill Reached,” “Beer Given Boisterous Welcoming.” The next day, the New York Times reported, “Nation Has Beer Shortage; 1,000,000 Barrels Consumed; Rush Brings in Big Revenue.”

Here on the First Coast, Pete’s Bar in Neptune Beach claims its own beer history fame: It was the first Duval County establishment to get a liquor license when Prohibition ended; it’s been open ever since, owned and operated by the same family.

There have been several abortive efforts to make April 7 a recognized holiday. In 2003, the Brewers Association, then Brewers Association of America, began touting New Beer’s Eve on April 6. Things got a bit muddled and the promoting ebbed.

When Justin Smith of Richmond, Virginia read about Iceland’s Beer Day, in 2009, he began a Facebook group to celebrate a National Beer Day. Learning of the incredible events of 1933, he chose April 7.

“We’ve decided we need a day to celebrate the awesomeness that is beer,” read the description on Facebook. “ … Tell all your friends about this glorious new holiday, and raise a glass, bottle, can or mug to the deliciousness that is beer.”

It didn’t take long for the group to get noticed. Membership quickly skyrocketed as beer lovers adopted April 7 as a full-fledged holiday.

Me, I don’t need a holiday to drink a few cold ones. But it’s nice to know someone picked up the banner to celebrate the day in history when beer was once again legal.